May 09, 2014

#72: Every Dancer's Dilemma

How I Learned to Heal...
the Hard Way
When health is absent, wisdom cannot reveal itself, art cannot manifest, strength cannot fight, wealth becomes useless, and intelligence cannot be applied. -Herophilus

I am a dancer. And I have the same problem every other dancer faces: I don't want to stop dancing. I've danced through stress fractures in both of my feet, a torn up knee, three spinal injuries, a neck injury and a shoulder injury. Whew.

But I'm a dancer. I kept dancing. Danced right through it all. That's what we do!

So it took me two whole years to finally take my new injuries seriously. I had my very first concussion. The ER didn't say anything, so I didn't think anything of it. I iced it, I stayed in bed, and then I went back to teaching and traveling.

Not good.

Eventually I found doctors that could help. But they seemed to think I already knew how bad things were. I didn't. I'm a dancer. I don't think it's serious unless I can't dance. And because of that, because I didn't stop when I was supposed to stop, I paid a heavy price. My nervous system revolted, as did a number of other systems, and bam. Here I am with entirely new health issues that, had I stopped dancing and stopped traveling, I never would have ended up experiencing in the first place.

It's a hard lesson to learn. So I'm here to tell you... learn it!

It took me a long, long time to do everything my excellent new doctor told me to. Chips Hough actually played the biggest role in my health - he came up to me, knowing about my concussion and its severity, and gave me one hell of a tongue-lashing. Do you know what he said? I was increasing my chance of Alzheimer's and Dementia in my old age, assuming I'd ever get there.

Well. That did it. Mostly. I'm a dancer! I wanted to keep going at something... anything! And so it took me a full TWO YEARS before I finally got the message to come to a full and a complete stop. And because of that, because I waited, because I had a dancer's mindset: I have a handicap placard.

You have no idea how that feels for a girl my age. A handicap placard. The wheelchair is literally in the mail. Because I'm a dancer. I tried to keep going.

You're a dancer, I'm a dancer, we all are dancers! And we never want to stay down.

Well, I'm here to tell you that it's worth staying down. Don't do what I did. Don't put it off. Don't take off a "little" time. Don't just slow down. Come to a full and complete stop.


It's the little things that make a good dancer GREAT - and it's the little things that get lost when we don't take care of our bodies like we're supposed to.
  • Don't just get an ice pack. Get ten! All shapes and sizes. 
  • Don't just buy a heating pad - buy three! 
  • Ice is better than heat when it comes to dance injuries. It's not as comfy, but you bounce back much faster.
  • Ladies, ice your neck after spinning and spotting, men, ice your shoulder from Nissy women doing drops on you without warning. If anything at all gets a surprise during your dance night, ice it at least once.
  • Tuck a pillow under your feet after a night of dancing. It brings down the swelling while you sleep.
  • Be careful when using electric blankets after dancing. That can actually increase the inflammation in your hips, knees and feet - even the smallest bit of inflammation can go nuts with prolonged yummy heating. It feels great after dancing, but it will hurt in the morning.
  • Never ice or heat for more than twenty mins. It's easy to forget, so use the timer on your smart phone or from your kitchen counter. After an hour or so, you can put the heat/ice back on again for another 20 mins.
  • Don't go dancing just to socialize, with the intention of staying off the floor when you're injured. Be safe and go to dinner with them instead, etc. When people see that you're out, they think you're there to dance. They will wear you down, I promise you, and get you on that dance floor. And it won't be pretty later on.
  • If you are required to go to a dance due to leadership or your business, then don't take dance shoes with you. Cheryl Burke, when she visits dance studios and dances, always wears 4 inch Louboutains. That way, when the men ask her to dance, she points down and says, "Sorry! I didn't wear my dance shoes."

I remember when I first tore up my knee. I had a mammoth brace on my leg and as I sat on the couch next to the floor, a dancer rolled up to me and said, "hey!!! I had that happen - know what to do? Take three vicodin and three shots of crown!"

I remember thinking then that this was a bad idea and that he'd probably have to pay a worse price later down the road. And then... Guess what? I essentially did the same thing when it came time for me to come to a full stop. (minus the crown, etc.) I tried to just "adjust." I tried to "push on." I fulfilled all of my contracts signed before the injuries - Oh! I thought I was being soooo good by not signing any new ones!

Nope. I was just being dumb. 

Be a smart dancer. 
When it comes to your health:
Under play your hand, not over.

In the meantime, thank you. I feel really lucky. I know you guys are a HUGE part of the reason I've made progress. I don't talk about my health a lot with you because it's kinda scary when you see it in writing. I mean, I had to stop everything - forget dancing - no walking! Physical therapy all day long, etc, etc, etc. And a wheelchair. Wow. That's what it takes for me to heal right now.

But you know what? This full and complete stop mean that I'll be dancing when I'm 90. SO worth it.

Love you guys. Stay clean. Stay safe. I love you.

From Weekly Note #72: Every Dancer's Dilemma (The Right Stuff). Released September 2013.